Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



doi: 10.2166/9781789062786_0215


Open access.


This chapter describes the locally driven, but centrally coordinated, water governance model in Nebraska, U.S. It offers a snapshot of water resources and the importance of agriculture, then moves to the relevant political institutions in the state, and federal controls related to water quantity. The focus of the chapter is on the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources’ (NeDNR) and Natural Resources Districts’ (NRDs) management of surface and groundwater, which has some distinct and some overlapping authority. The main area of overlap is in addressing the connection between ground and surface water, particularly in situations when either or both are over appropriated. Integrated management planning is a key tool for basins in crisis, where allocations are fully or over appropriated and there is increased demand or diminished supply. The chapter explains what integrated management planning entails and gives a closer look into instances where it has been implemented. The polycentric model allows for collaborative governance, pushing stakeholders (particularly the agricultural sector) to innovate based on changes in water availability. NRDs can (and do) exercise controls; they do so by using their authority to make institutional changes and sanction violators for over-abstraction. This authority is granted and legitimized by publicly elected boards, an ongoing leadership training network, and a history of locally driven rule-making. However, there are also shortcomings to the model: in particular, it is difficult to address cross-border issues or legal conflicts. Furthermore, there is scant research on its effectiveness in actually preventing groundwater decline. The Nebraska model and its local examples may offer lessons for other basins where water resources have historically been relatively plentiful but are now facing drought stresses and the growing demands of intensive irrigated agricultural production.